UNC trustees approve tenure for journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones after students removed from meeting


Trustees at the University of North Carolina at Chel Hill proved tenure for Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Nicole Hanna-Jones on Wednesday, triggered by weeks of tension when a board member asked questions about her teaching credentials. But the process stopped.

The board voted 9-4 to accept the term’s petition in a special meeting that included a closed-door session that was opposed by supporters of Hannah-Jones.

CBS affiliate WNCN-TV reported that tensions escalated during Wednesday’s special meeting when students had to be removed so that the board could go into closed session.

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Protesters protest the UNC-Chail Hill Trustees meeting on Wednesday, June 30, 2021, in Chell Hill, NC, as the board prepares to discuss and vote on the tenure of distinguished journalist Nicole Hanna-Jones.

Travis Long/The News and Observer


“Why was this not reported?” Professor Deborah Strowman asked why students weren’t better informed about tenure discussions being private. “Maybe someone could have grabbed the mic, or someone could have called a student and said that’s why we’re doing this.”

At one point, one student said, a campus police officer was trying to get her out of the ballroom, where the meeting took place.

Talija Wan, president of the Black Student Movement, said: “You allowed 75 students into this space, most likely you were going to close the session and instead of communicating to the students in advance that this session was going to be someone else’s. Is going to close for no reason. Just, ‘No, we’re kicking you out of this place.'”

Despite the tension, trustee Jean Davis praised the vote.

“Today we have taken another important step towards building an even better university,” Davis said after the vote was announced. “We welcome Nicole Hanna-Jones back to Chel Hill.”

Davis said that in granting Hanna-Jones tenure, the board recognized “its commitment to the highest values ​​of the University of academic freedom, open scholarly inquiry, a commitment to diversity of all kinds, and to fostering constructive dissent and civil public discourse.” Confirming.”

The university had announced that Hannah-Jones – who won the Pulitzer Prize for her work on The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 project that focused on America’s history of slavery – would join the journalism school’s faculty. It said she would take over the Knight chair in Race and Investigative Journalism in July with a five-year contract.

But after lawyers for Hannah-Jones announced last week that she would not report for work without tenure, student body president Lamar Richards, who is also a trustee, told the board to convene a special meeting after Wednesday.

Hannah-Jones said in a statement Wednesday evening that she was honored and grateful for the broad support she received in her fight for term. He said the issue of tenure is more than just him.

“This fight is about ensuring the journalistic and academic freedom of black writers, researchers, teachers, and students,” Hannah-Jones said. “We must make sure our work is safe and capable of being free from the risk of repercussions, and we’re not there yet.”

In a statement posted on the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund website, Hannah-Jones did not immediately commit to coming to UNC.

“These past weeks have been very challenging and difficult and I need to take some time to process what has happened and determine the best way forward,” she said.

Following the vote, Trustee Ralph W. Meakins Sr. issued a statement welcoming Hannah-Jones to the faculty.

“I strongly believe that he has a right to express his views, and it is important to do so here at this great university,” Meakins said. “I believe we have an incredible opportunity for our students as a journalist and scholar to learn from Nicole Hanna-Jones.”

Before Wednesday, the school had little to say about why the tenure was not offered, but Walter Hussman, an Arkansas newspaper publisher and a major donor to the journalism school, revealed that he had joined the university. The “highly contentious and highly controversial” process was emailed to challenge their work before the process was halted.

“The university has now voted to give term to Ms. Nicole Hanna-Jones. I look forward to meeting her and discussing journalism,” Hussman said in a text message. “We plan to continue to support the UNC Hasman School of Journalism and Media in advocating for core values.”

Earlier in the year, Hannah-Jones’ tenure was put on hold because she didn’t come from a “traditional academic-type background”, and Trustee Charles Duckett, who considers lifelong points, more to consider her qualifications. Time was wanted, university leaders had said. . Duckett on Wednesday voted to prove his term application.

Some conservatives have complained about The 1619 Project, which focuses on the country’s history of slavery.

The trustees’ earlier decision to withhold the presentation of Hanna-Jones’ tenure sparked a stream of criticism within the community. It also placed the depths of despair at what was cried out by critics as the school’s failure to respond to long-standing concerns about its treatment of Black faculty, staff and students.

Several hundred UNC students gathered near the chancellor’s office last Friday to demand that the trustees reconsider the tenure of Hannah-Jones. Protesters supporting him entered the room at the start of Wednesday’s session. But when the board went into closed session, most of them left, except for a small group that was kicked out, including the student, who said he was pushed by a UNC campus police officer.

After the session reopened after 6 pm, the protesters returned to the increased police presence. After the trustees adjourned the meeting, protesters began yelling at Davis and UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz for bringing promised changes for black students, which they said had not happened yet. The students presented a list of more than 50 demands, including a reduction in police presence and acceptance of black contributions to the university.

UNC Journalism School Dean Susan King said she is extremely grateful to the board for proving Hanna-Jones’ tenure.

“Hannah-Jones will make our school better with her presence,” she said in a statement. “She will deepen the university’s commitment to intellectual integrity and access to all.”

WNCN reported that journalism school alumnus Carole Shirley said the tenure-track decision is not the end.

“It’s a good day to be a tar heel,” she said. “I’m very proud today. There’s more to be done, but I love this school and I’m proud to be here.”

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